Not a lot was made of the trade when it was made last April. Buffalo's acquisition of Jerry Hughes in exchange for LB Kelvin Sheppard was one that most outside observers viewed as a minor transaction. In fact even now if you Google 'NFL Trades 2013' the first listing is CBSSports.com's list of all "major NFL trades" from the league year since last March. The Hughes-Sheppard deal isn't even listed, but looking back on all the moves made by NFL clubs over the last league year the Bills return on that trade was among the best in the league.
There were certainly more high profile trades like the Percy Harvin trade between Seattle and Minnesota that handed the Vikings three draft choices, and the Trent Richardson trade between the Browns and Colts. But there are very few that benefited one team significantly more than another than the Hughes trade.
READ: Bills best in-season trade? | Buffalo trades for QB
Bills GM Doug Whaley remembers how the deal came about as Indianapolis was interested in Sheppard and called Buffalo during last spring's NFL draft. Jerry Hughes was soon brought up as an option to make it a player for player deal after it was evident the Colts did not want to give up draft choices.
"He was a guy that was intriguing to us," said Whaley of Hughes. "His biggest negative was he was playing behind two Pro Bowlers. He brought a different dimension that would help on the opposite side of Mario (Williams) so it was a no brainer for us."
Hughes was not a full-time starter, as he was more of a pass rush package player for Buffalo's defense. Though he played in just over 55 percent of the defensive snaps in 2013, his impact was substantial.
His 10 sacks represent the most obvious statistic, but according to Pro Football Focus he also had nine quarterback hits and 39 quarterback hurries on the season. With just over 300 pass rush snaps on the season Hughes ranked number one in the NFL in PFF’s Pass Rush Productivity metric with a rating of 15.4.
It's what has many looking at Buffalo's trade with Indianapolis as one of the most favorable for one team in the league this past year.
"It's one of the best (trades) that comes to mind," one NFL personnel executive told Buffalobills.com. "Backup inside linebacker for a young pass rusher with 10 sacks."
The only other NFL trades paying off as handsomely for one team over the other are Arizona's acquisition of QB Carson Palmer and a draft pick for a pair of low round draft choices with Oakland. New England's pickup of RB LeGarrette Blount for RB Jeff Demps and a seventh-round selection and San Francisco's trade of a sixth-round pick for WR Anquan Boldin.
For Hughes, who had all of 32 pass disruptions in his first three seasons in the NFL as a bit player for the Colts, his explanation for his explosion in production was simple.
"They let me play, they let me see the field," he said. "That was probably the biggest thing. That was probably the most snaps I've had in my entire career in the NFL, so I was able to kind of get out there on the field. I was able to kind of go and have fun."
While the 10 sacks Hughes logged for the Bills in 2013 is welcomed production, Whaley likes the fact that Hughes work rate benefits the defense even when he himself does not finish a pass rush play.
"He not only opens up things for himself, but for Mario (Williams) and the guys inside like Kyle (Williams) and all the other rotational guys. He's done some good things on the stat sheet, but he's also done some things that don't show up on the stat sheet."
The two Williams were the only defenders on Buffalo's roster with more sacks than Hughes this past season, and both had over 200 more pass rush snaps on the season than Hughes.
For Hughes 2013 was a season he never saw coming.
"I knew that they were going to allow me to play early on in the year, but to predict everything that happened, no, I probably wouldn't have been able to predict this at all," said Hughes. "It's a huge confidence boost on my part to have someone come out and seek me for a trade. Then to tell me when I get here they're going allow me to play and then to see that happen through the entire season... it allowed me to kind of just get on the field and do what I'm able to do."
"I just think he's going to get more and more comfortable and as he does we believe his sack totals will come up and we'll start getting him better on the run side of things," said Whaley. "We're very excited to have Jerry Hughes and we're expecting bigger things from him next year."